While the nascent Summer of Love was blossoming in San Francisco there was a sort of parallel development happening in the midwest. As a budding record collector I can recall the cornucopia of new music available at prices I could afford. Labels like Columbia’s lower priced Odyssey label, Turnabout, and Nonesuch made the exciting new works of living, emerging composers. While I listened to rock on the radio occasionally I decided to spend my hard earned pennies on this exciting new music which was rapidly becoming an essential part of my still developing personality (I graduated high school in 1974). It was music rarely heard on radio though WFMT, WNIB, and WEFM did some service to new music the majority of their programming played mostly music written before 1900. I would later learn about the “cut-out” bins where I could sometimes find the higher priced labels with their tantalizing recordings of new music to add to my growing collection of music which I could share with but a few like minds in my working class neighborhood.
Witness now the resurrection of a respected new music label, Neuma. Established in 1988 by Shirish Korde and Jerry Taylor this label released a lot of new music, mostly of the electroacoustic genre. Their curatorial skills were well tuned and many discs were released but, like many such creative ventures aimed at a select (read “small”) audience, the label fell on hard times. Well, as of 2021 Neuma was brought back by none other than Philip Blackburn, a composer, performer, producer with the enviable curatorial radar that drove the wonderful Innova records from 1991-2020.
The first volley of releases includes this wonderful rescue from the vaults of obscurity. It is a complete live choral concert (with electronics). It is difficult to imagine what this music must have sounded like in the context of this rural agriculture school in mid-downstate Illinois but these were the heady times of the beginnings of electronic and computer music and the University of Illinois at Champaign/Urbana was a hotbed for many of the experiments that led to computers being integrated into all aspects of society including the arts. (This is the same ensemble on the Nonesuch disc). Composers like Salvatore Martirano (1927-1995) and, the conductor composer Kenneth Gaburo (1926-1993) who put this concert together. This is, in short, a landmark concert of sorts, one of those that attempts to put the music in a proper historical context.
There are ten works here with composition dates ranging from 1909 to 1966, the year of this concert. There are two composers whose names are unfamiliar to this listener but all the others will likely be familiar to most fans of the 20th Century avant-garde. It is a nice survey, one might say, a snapshot of the current repertoire in 1966. The recording is remarkably clear and this disc will find a place with serious new music aficionados as a sort of classic.
The somewhat spare liner notes are more than adequate and the simple production hopefully made for a more cost effective release. The focus here is the music and these fine performances. Perhaps the most striking aspect of this release is how music by Webern and even the Leslie Bassett piece sound older, from a bygone era.
Gaburo includes only two of his own compositions choosing to give voice to emerging stars. The longest work on the program, Messiaen’s Cinq Rechants clocking in at about 18 minutes. It is a fitting finale to this masterful sampling of the choral repertoire at the edge of the new.